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Enjoy Magazine

Haunted History

03/19/2013 11:59AM ● By anonymous


Hans Henry Buhne, the 19th Century Danish sea captain credited with piloting the first ship into Humboldt Bay, was a pillar of the Eureka community who enjoyed success as a merchant, dairyman, tugboat captain and more.

Alas, he was not immune to tragedy. In 1866, when his wife Mary returned from a shopping expedition to San Francisco, Buhne went out into the bay to greet her. Eager to see her husband, she boarded his boat and, under shrouded circumstances, fell into the bay and drowned.

Some say the ghost of Capt. Buhne, still searching for his lost wife, inhabits the Buhne General Merchandise building he erected on the waterfront some 150 years ago.

That’s just one of the snippets of history, lore and the possibly paranormal that Eric Vollmers enjoys sharing with clients who sign up for one of his guided tours of Eureka’s Old Town district.

Vollmers, a Redding native and former Shasta College assistant basketball coach, moved to the coast in 1993 for a teaching position at Arcata High School and the opportunity to coach some prep basketball.

Local history has long been a topic of interest for Vollmers, whose ancestors established the Vollmers Summer Resort, featured in the August issue of Enjoy. Currently, his interests include identifying and mapping American Indian settlements in the Upper Sacramento River canyon and working on a Joaquin Miller appreciation project.

His interest in Eureka’s colorful history began with an idea from his sister, Shan Vollmers, a teacher at Boulder Creek Elementary School in Redding. “Shan went on a ghost tour in San Francisco and suggested I do something similar in Old Town Eureka,” he says. “I sat on it for two or three months, and then one day I went walking around Old Town, introduced myself and asked people what they could tell me about their buildings. What they told me was astonishing. By the end of that day, I came home and wrote up the stories I heard and I had 15 pages’ worth of stories.”

In addition to collecting stories from locals and business owners, Vollmers dug into historical records, old periodicals, biographies, census data and records maintained by the Humboldt Historical Society and the Clarke Historical Museum.

Vollmers tried out his tour on some Humboldt State University graduate students and teachers and received a very favorable response. After a little fine-tuning, he formally launched Old Town Haunted History Tours.

The tour lasts about 90 minutes and takes guests on an easy 1-mile walk through Eureka’s Old Town district, with Vollmers periodically stopping along the way to talk about the colorful characters that populated the Victorian-era seaport.

Each tour begins at the foot of C Street on the marina—an appropriate spot to start, since the waterfront played a big role in Eureka’s early history. Boisterous sailors and lumberjacks would gather there by the hundreds, many transported from logging camps on company-owned railcars, to take advantage of cheap lodging, plentiful saloons and the dozens of brothels.

Guests also get to admire the grand buildings that cemented Eureka’s status as the north coast hub of commerce and culture. Through his research and conversations, Vollmers was able to peek behind the buildings’ ornamentation and lavish architectural embellishments and uncover a trove of stories.

There are tales of tunnels that reportedly house the spirits of persecuted Chinese; Prohibition-era speakeasies haunted by the victims of fisticuffs and gunfire; hotel rooms visited by the mischievous ghosts of poorly treated chambermaids; and a female apparition known to orbit a chandelier in a former brothel.

Famous names pop up on the tour, including the noted author Jack London, who was known to enjoy the bawdy, working-class waterfront environment. Vollmers tells the reported tale of a fistfight in the Oberon Saloon that erupted during an argument between London, a staunch socialist, and Stanwood Murphy, a conservative Republican and owner of the Pacific Lumber Co.

The tour also features the work of timber baron William Carson, whose impressive Carson Block building still stands. Seeking to refine the town, he included the three-story Ingomar Theatre, which he named after his favorite opera, “Ingomar the Barbarian.” An earthquake later toppled the theatre’s chimney and the dislodged bricks crushed a woman—adding yet another chapter to Old Town’s haunted history. (707) 672-5012 Tour rates are $20, adults; $15, students with discounts available for groups of 15 or more. Call for departure times & more information. Reservations are required.